Top critical review
28 people found this helpful
Character led at least
on 18 September 2011
Justin Hill is one of many to have just begun a historical series set around 1066. However, he has made a better start than most. Hill has a similar academic background to James Aitcheson, who is covering much of the same ground, but from the Norman point of view. They have both cribbed the Saxon place names from the same sources and have read the same original chronicles. Hill has chosen a key protagonist. Aitcheson has invented an unknown.
Hill has the trickier job. He is following the Conn Igguldsen route. Take the key character in a turbulent period of history, start with his youth and character formation, and hang the whole tale on that: eg. Caesar and Genghis Khan. Napier does the same with Attila the Hun. The alternative, I would call the Cornwell/CS Forester school - make up an individual then plonk them into every major event of that period. the great benefit of the first scholl is that the story, if good enough in itself will propel the whole thing along quite nicely, which is what happens here. The book clatters along, makes no mistakes, informs and interests. The drawback is that it rarely gets the pulse racing. The worst proponents of this style in the 70s and 80s were first Nigel Tranter (Scottish History) and then Sharon Penman (Wars of the Roses). The other style is usually much more exciting, but is very unforgiving of poor characterisation and loose plotting. That's why bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow sell so well, and usually the other kind doesnt. This is the better end of the other kind.
So what do we have? A clear well told story, but VERY limited excitement. Much blood is spilled but there is nothing very gutsy here. If you want the exciting school of historical fiction don't go for this. If you are interested in history for itself, it's a good primer on the period without having to read REALLY boring books.